Timelined a day or two after Cracking Ice
<Jessica> Up in the cupola, Jess sat and watched the world go by. She had a box of crackers and some water and she was making do with those for now. She'd managed not to throw up for a day and a half so it was something resembling progress. Maybe later she'd try some actual protein.
<Shinobi> Tomorrow he was going to try to go to class, but for today the short trip across town to the house was his trial run. Aside from being still a little jumpy and sore, he was fine. In a relative sense. He parked in front of the house and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath.
<Jessica> Jess spied the car and smiled but wasn't sure if she should go down. She sent Sharky instead for now so that she could take her time.
<Shinobi> Obi got out of the car and locked it, looking up at the house and heading for the door. After tapping in his code and opening the door, he found the strange silver dog bouncing excitedly in the foyer. He had to smile. "Hey, Sharky."
<Jessica> Shuffling carefully down from her hideyhole took some time but, in the mean time, Sharky was gesturing for Shinobi to invite himself upstairs.
<Shinobi> That made him give the dog a raised eyebrow and he shot a glance at the steps to his basement dungeon. "Okay, I got it." He started up the stairs behind the pet.
<Jessica> Sharky rejoined Jess on the landing outside the kitchen and she smiled, crouching to pet the silver creature. When Shinobi's head came into view she offered him a smile too but found she was still struggling to keep her gaze on him.
<Shinobi> "Hey Jess," he greeted her with a smile of his own, surprisingly unforced. He was happy to see her.
<Jessica> "Hey... how are you? Do you want some coffee?" She straightened up, glancing toward the kitchen.
<Shinobi> "Sure, thanks." He reached the kitchen level and found himself face to face with her. "I'm better," he gestured at himself. "Upright and all. How are you?"
<Jessica> Jess gave a shrug, "I'm... I'm working on it...." she headed on into the kitchen, glad for the distraction of making coffee.
<Shinobi> He nodded, following her into the kitchen with Sharky winding around his feet. "Yeah, I know how that goes."
<Jessica> "I'm not really sure what to do with myself at the moment... it's very quiet around here...." she offered a small smile over her shoulder.
<Shinobi> Carefully, he crouched and petted the silver dog, looking up at her with a faint smile. "Same for the hotel, really." He smirked. "Well, aside from Drake."
<Jessica> "Yeah... he's not good at quiet, I think it makes him uncomfortable." She set the jug on the hotplate and pushed a hand through her hair, "I miss you and Hope being around..."
<Shinobi> "I think closing his mouth at all makes him uncomfortable." He laughed a little and Sharky pushed his head against his hand. "Yeah?" he said in slight surprise, looking up again at her. Did she really?
<Jessica> She nodded, "I miss the company... the noise... all the complaints about my healthy food..."
<Shinobi> "We eat room service or take out for every meal," he interjected with a grin.
<Jessica> "I'd say room service is probably healthier but, knowing Hope, it's just desserts...." she managed a small smile at the grin.
<Shinobi> "She's not eating much, actually," he said with a sigh.
<Jessica> "That makes two of us..." she muttered, turning to take out two mugs.
<Shinobi> "You too?" He straightened up, slowly and with a slight wince, and went to lean on the counter. Not that he had much room to talk.
<Jessica> "Food and I don't seem to get along much at the moment..." she half shrugged, pouring the two cups of coffee and offering one out to him as she took a sip of the other and pulled a face. Needed sugar.
<Shinobi> "But coffee is a new acquaintance?" He watched her try it, eyebrow up.
<Jessica> "Inhibitor," she held up her arm so her sleeve fell back and revealed the cuff and the red marks on her skin but she kept forgetting about those. "I'm on vacation from my powers."
<Shinobi> He started to comment, then noticed the marks. Taking a step closer he touched her arm. "What happened?"
<Jessica> Jess hastily put the coffee cup down and tugged her sleeve back over her arm, "Nothing happened..." she bit her lip and distracted herself with the sugar. "Just... general wear and tear, you know...." she was maybe trying too hard to sound casual.
<Shinobi> He was wary now, and a half dozen horrible thoughts crossed his mind. Putting down his own cup, he moved closer. "Jess..."
<Jessica> She started a process of adding sugar, stirring and tasting without really tasting the coffee. She was on some sort of auto pilot while she tried to keep calm but she was aware of him creeping up on her and it was setting her on edge again.
<Shinobi> "Did..." He licked his lips and put his hand over hers to stop her movement, lowering his voice since he knew the place was under surveillance. "Did Sebastian do this?" he whispered.
<Jessica> "No!" She was alarmed by the fact he'd even thought Sebastian capable of it, "Why would he do that?" She stared at him, "I did it."
<Shinobi> "You did it?" He stared at her arm again.
<Jessica> She nodded, sliding along the counter a little bit so she could escape the cornered and panicked feeling. She covered her face with her hands and took a few breaths to calm down, "I... I've been... I-" Bugger. She couldn't form a sentence. She bit down on her lip, "It's stupid..."
<Shinobi> "You what?" Alarmed, he watched her face now.
<Jessica> "I've been having... flashbacks, I suppose..." She went to the table and sat down on the corner of it.
<Shinobi> "Flashbacks?" He took a step back and bumped into the counter, staying there.
<Jessica> She nodded, "I see things on television... have a nightmare... try to cook anything that doesn't grow in the ground... all I see is red..." she cut herself off, holding onto the edge of the table as though she was worried she'd float away. "It doesn't matter how hard I try... I can't make it go away...."
<Shinobi> "Red." Starting to feel like a parrot, he blinked at the floor, his hand dropping to his stomach.
<Jessica> "I can still feel it... whatever it was in those tanks... the blood... I can smell it..." She swallowed, feeling that all-too-familiar sensation coming back. She was going to have to run any second now. And not fall down the stairs. Maybe she should just try for the sink...
<Shinobi> "You're not there," he said, snapping out of it. "You're home. It's safe. I promise, it's okay."
<Jessica> "No! It's not okay!" she stood up, turning her back on him and leaning on the table, "I did it out of anger. I killed someone. I killed someone with your face. I'm never going to stop seeing that...." She bowed her head, her shoulders' movement betraying the silenced result of her outburst.
<Shinobi> With his face. Oyama Yurei, who'd tortured him. Or perhaps he's yours. The old man's voice echoed in his mind and he swore. "But he isn't me. Wasn't me. And he deserved to die."
<Jessica> She failed at silencing the next sob and tried to cover it with a hand over her mouth instead, "That doesn't help me when I'm sleeping."
<Shinobi> "I'm sorry," he said, tone softening, and moved closer to her - close enough to touch her shoulder. "I wish I'd done it."
<Jessica> She shook her head, "Don't say that... you don't know what you're saying..."
<Shinobi> "Yeah, I do." He snorted, rubbing her upper arm quietly for a moment. "It's what I was made for," he muttered eventually.
<Jessica> "That doesn't mean anything...." she turned around, sliding an arm around him for a hug.
<Shinobi> Shifting closer, he returned the hug. "It doesn't?"
<Jessica> She shook her head, "Just because you're trained to do something, doesn't mean you'll be able to deal with the consequences." She gave him a squeeze, "I know he wasn't you... but sometimes I wake up in the night because I have the worst nightmares that I made a mistake..."
<Shinobi> Oh. He gripped her arms and leaned back enough to see her face. "Hey, look at me."
<Jessica> She sniffed, managing to force her head up and follow the instruction.
<Shinobi> "I'm alive," he said with a crooked grin. "And that's because of you."
<Jessica> She shook her head, "No... it's because of Viper..."
<Shinobi> "Viper only helped me because of you."
<Jessica> "Maybe..." she conceded, "But you'd have to check with her for her actual motives..."
<Shinobi> He laughed and shook his head, pulling her back into the hug. "It's because of you. So, thank you."
<Jessica> She pressed a kiss to his cheek, "You're more than welcome. You and Hope are family, I'd do anything to keep you safe... you know that, right?"
<Shinobi> "Yeah." He closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. "You always knew what I was, but you always tried to make me feel better... to feel at home..." When his voice caught, he cleared his throat in an attempt to cover. "Thank you for that, too."
<Jessica> "Of course I did... I know how important it is to feel like you have a home... especially so when your upbringing is a little bit... unconventional." She gave him a gentle squeeze.
<Shinobi> "I appreciate it, Jess." He returned the pressure and pressed his lips together in thought. "I do miss this... I miss you."
<Jessica> "Well... you're welcome to come home any time you like, you and Hope..." her tone was tentative but hopeful, "I miss having you two in the house... it's too quiet..."
<Shinobi> "Hope's... not ready." It was a massive understatement, but he didn't know what else to say.
<Jessica> "I understand..." she offered him a small smile, "Just... as long as you both know you're missed and you can come back if and when you want to.... but I can't promise the place will look the same..."
<Shinobi> "Did you already rent out my room?" He smirked, though a portion of him was somewhat uncertain if he was joking.
<Jessica> She laughed, "Nooooo I'm not taking in any more strays.... at least not until everything's settled down... but definitely no more squirrels."
<Shinobi> He laughed, looking down in embarrassment. "Good to know."
<Jessica> "But... we did discuss some redecoration.... there's the whole roof garden thing.... which we were going to do anyway.... but Sebastian made another suggestion... and I don't know if I'm okay with it yet, or even if I will be, but maybe we'll do something else instead... I don't know...." she pushed a hand through her hair, "I just know I need to do something that isn't sit around all day..."
<Shinobi> "I understand that feeling." He sighed, moving back from her a bit.
<Jessica> She nodded, "Sebastian said you were thinking of going back to school?"
<Shinobi> Picking up his forgotten coffee, he took a sip. "Yeah, going back tomorrow."
<Jessica> "I hope it helps..." she offered another small smile, "Before all this... and Miriam.... I was thinking of going back to school."
<Shinobi> "Oh yeah?" Jess wanted to go back and Hope wanted to quit. "You should, if you want to."
<Jessica> "I don't know... It's been so long I may as well start over... but I have no idea what I want to do with my future... so I don't know what the point would be..." She sighed, sitting down on the table again. "I feel a bit lost..."
<Shinobi> "The point is supposed to be to figure out the point, I think." He sat down beside her and took another drink. "I'm starting from almost nothing, so you can always start over with me." Smirking, he shot her a side glance.
<Jessica> "Not sure I could get into MIT... or spend my life staring at computer screens and circuits," she wrinkled her nose, "That sounds unbelievably mind numbing."
<Shinobi> "There's more to it than computer screens and circuits," he said with a chuckle. "I'm not so sure I want to do that either."
<Jessica> "If I did go back to school.... I'd probably go to the one I know... even if it's full of crazy people."
<Shinobi> "Well, I can't help you there." He wrinkled his nose and took a drink of his coffee.
<Jessica> She laughed a little, "At any rate... it's nearly the end of the year so I wouldn't be able to do much about it... though, I suppose I could check out some classes or something.... just see how I feel..."
<Shinobi> "Just take some summer classes at MIT then," he said with a shrug. "I'm going to... may as well. And I'm testing out of some general requirements." After taking another sip, he sighed. "If Sebastian can get me in, he can get you in..."
<Jessica> "I suppose it couldn't hurt.... wouldn't be so bad to have a friend there either.... unless you think you'd get sick of me?"
<Shinobi> "You can bring me peanut butter cookies. That would take care of it." He nodded, watching her over the rim of his cup.
<Jessica> She giggled, "You can have some now, if you like? I baked some with Paige and Ripley...." she got up to go and fetch them, "I know you like them."
<Shinobi> "I do." He couldn't help but perk up at this welcome news. "Paige and Ripley? Drake's family? He's... actually been keeping mostly to himself. He talks to Hope. Mostly just gives me the evil eye." Although, he'd made an awkward attempt to talk that morning. Weird.
<Jessica> She nodded, taking out the container and bringing it back to the table. She popped off the lid and held it out to him, "He's still not sure about you... he'll come round. If he gives you a hard time, though... just tell me and I'll go shout at him."
<Shinobi> "He doesn't like Sebastian, so he definitely doesn't like me." He snatched a cookie and took a bite, savoring it.
<Jessica> "He's never liked Sebastian... and your connection to Sebastian is not your fault so he's not allowed to hold it against you..." She took a cookie for herself, setting the container down between them once she sat down, "He doesn't trust easily... which I can completely understand."
<Shinobi> He ate his cookie quietly, thinking.
<Jessica> Jess glanced at him, thinking herself about her options with more education. The books with course listings were still in the house, it wouldn't hurt to look through them...
<Shinobi> "Sebastian is okay, I assume?" He picked up another cookie and broke it in half, studying it.
<Jessica> She nodded, "He's keeping his distance... physically as well as, well... you know," she gestured vaguely at her head, "He says he's fine.... but I don't think he is..."
<Shinobi> "Really?" He looked at her curiously.
<Jessica> "He's avoiding talking about things... which is normal for him, granted. But, it's just a feeling... it might be nothing.... could be all me.... but I'm not sure it is..." she sighed, "He's not going to talk to me about it though... not until he's ready... and not until he thinks I won't break into tiny pieces under the pressure..."
<Shinobi> "What do you think is bothering him?" he asked cautiously, watching her from the corner of his eye.
<Jessica> She gave a helpless shrug, taking out another cookie and picking bits off of it. "I think maybe he's not enjoying the helpless feeling all that left us with... or maybe it's that things were so bad before you were taken... Everything is such a mess... it's hard to see a way forward."
<Shinobi> "He apologized, for what happened before," he said, picking at his own cookie now.
<Jessica> She nodded, "Good..." she offered him a smile, "So... does this mean things will be less.... tense between you now? Or so I still need to glare at people over the dinner table?"
<Shinobi> He smiled a little and took a bite of his cookie. "I don't know."
<Jessica> "Well... hopefully I don't have to do any more glaring. I don't like it much." She chewed her lip, glancing at him, "Did you have any thoughts about the other thing?"
<Shinobi> Unsure exactly what she was asking, he took another bite, staring at the cookie. Why did he like peanut butter anyway? Where had that preference come from? "I feel pretty helpless myself."
<Jessica> She assumed that meant 'no' and took the slight subject change, "About what?"
<Shinobi> Everything seemed too dramatic of a response, but it was how he felt most of the time. "I don't know... if I stop and think, it's overwhelming."
<Jessica> "I know the feeling...." She leaned against him, "I find it's best just to keep going until you reach some sort of equilibrium again..."
<Shinobi> The gesture made him smile a little. "That's what I've been doing, but every now and then something hits me and I just... stop." Biting his lip, he frowned at the cookie. "I have memories, and... likes and dislikes... a personality, I guess... but how?"
<Jessica> "If people could answer that question, there'd be nothing fun left to do and we'd all just give up. They just happen... that's normal, you know." She bumped him gently, "Not that I'm an authority on normal... I guess some of it is genetics, some of it is upbringing... but a large part of it is experimentation. For example... I like dancing. I didn't know that til I got brainwashed."
<Shinobi> She didn't understand. He shook his head. "No, I mean, I remember growing up in a group home in Omaha. I remember going to school, having friends, knowing people and things. I can read and drive and play third base..."
<Jessica> "I don't have any memories like that... well... I did for a while but they went away..." she wrinkled her nose, "That was worse than not having them at all..."
<Shinobi> He gave her a curious look. What the fuck was she talking about? Then, he frowned. "You mean fake memories..."
<Jessica> She nodded, "A couple of years ago... a group of students from the school were taken. We were inserted into a community with fake families, fake memories... fake everything... and they were testing a drug on us that would keep our powers from working. While I was there... I had memories of a childhood I never had... and parents... both of them..."
<Shinobi> "Right..." He drew in a breath, realizing it sounded vaguely familiar, if only perhaps from a file somewhere. "Fake everything. That's... I guess what I am." The laugh he let out was bitter. "So you do have an idea what I'm talking about."
<Jessica> "I do," she gave him a smile, "My fake memories... they were far better than my actual life... and learning everything about myself was painful." She sighed, "But... after all of that... I decided to just be who I wanted to be. The past didn't matter, real or fake... what matters is where you go next. Who cares how you got this far? You survived. With our luck, that's a big deal."
<Shinobi> "You have a point there," he said dryly and finished his cookie, picking up the cooling coffee for a drink. Finally, he sighed. "Does it work? Telling yourself that?"
<Jessica> "I'm still here, aren't I?" she smiled at him, "It was while I was working all this out that I met Sebastian. Life got better... sure we've hit a few bumps but we work it out together... it's better when you have people."
<Shinobi> He thought of Hope and smiled. "Yeah, it does." Taking another sip, he bumped her shoulder with his own.
<Jessica> She laughed, "See? It's not so bad... start with college, everything else'll work itself out. It usually does."
<Shinobi> It took a while for his smile to fade as he thought things over. "Sebastian told me I'm a Shaw, no matter the relationship between us."
<Jessica> "You are," she nodded in agreement, "And so is Hope, even if she spells it wrong."
<Shinobi> "Try telling her that," he said with a snort, then remembered their conversations and sobered slightly. Maybe. Someday. "He is..." Stalling with another sip, he changed tactic. "I never really considered Dr. Essex my father. I believed he helped raise me, but now I know-"
<Shinobi> "Fuck," he muttered, closing his eyes. "I don't know what I'm saying. I don't know what I want."
<Jessica> She pushed the cookies behind her and slid closer so she could give him a hug, "You do... you just don't know how to ask."
<Shinobi> Putting the nearly empty cup down, he slipped his arms around her and held on until his breathing slowed. "He made me, lied to me, set me on this path.”
<Jessica> "And now he's gone. That's all in your past and it doesn't matter anymore," she gave him a squeeze, "You're in our family now. We take care of each other."
<Shinobi> He shook his head. "But how is Sebastian any different?"
<Jessica> "Sebastian has me," she pointed out, "And he lied to protect you... we all did... you know we were just trying to make sure you had the best chance at normal, right?" She had told him but she worried he'd forget.
<Shinobi> "He told me his original plan was to use me against Oyama." He snorted. "I guess that part did work out."
<Jessica> "You realise there is no way in hell that would have ever actually happened? Even if he hadn't changed his mind when he realised you're a real person." She tried not to think too much about the Oyamas, "I would have had something to say about it."
<Shinobi> So maybe he hadn't lied about that. It was a little reassuring, to hear it from Jess. "I know." He shouldn't dwell on this so much, but it was important. He needed to decide this if he was going to move on.
<Jessica> "Good," she offered him another cookie, "Just so long as we're clear."
<Shinobi> He accepted it, giving the cookie a long stare it didn't really deserve. "Does Sebastian want me to be his son?"
<Jessica> "If that would make you happy," she cocked her head, "Would it?"
<Shinobi> "I don't know." He broke the cookie in half.
<Jessica> "There's no hurry... no one is waiting on you to make all these choices about yourself." She gently rubbed his back, "Everyone that loves you would rather you were happy eventually than rush it all now and end up wishing you'd done things differently. We'll accept whatever choice you make."
<Shinobi> The idea that Sebastian loved him was... alien. He made a face.
<Jessica> She laughed at the look, "My point is... if you want to try and carry on how we were, we can go on introducing you to people as his son.... or you can start calling Sebastian by his first name and we'll figure something out."
<Shinobi> "It makes sense to keep doing it." He ate half the cookie and thought this over as he chewed. "I just... I don't want the name."
<Jessica> "Then change it," she stole a bit of the uneaten half, "No one even has to remember it was different - we know a bunch of telepaths."
<Shinobi> That made him laugh softly.
<Jessica> "See? It's fine. You worry too much... which is something you have in common with Sebastian and me both. You're one of us..." she bumped his shoulder with hers again, "And you know what the best part about that is? There's nowhere to hide."
<Shinobi> "Great," he said, still laughing and shaking his head. "I wonder why he bothered to give me a past?"
<Jessica> "We'll probably never know... maybe he was just an asshole?" she shrugged, "I've given up trying to figure out the motives of insane criminal masterminds."
<Shinobi> He raised his eyebrows in agreement and ate the last piece of the cookie. "I was Michael, before."
<Jessica> "Do you want to change it back to that?"
<Shinobi> "Maybe." He slowly brushed the crumbs from his hands and jeans. Now he'd need to change clothes. "I think..." he started carefully. "Even though it wasn't really real, I was happier when I was just Michael."
<Jessica> "Then be Michael again," she smiled, "If that's what you want to be called, then that's what we'll call you."
<Shinobi> "Michael... Shaw." He tried it out, wondering how he felt about it.
<Jessica> "It'll take some getting used to..." She hopped off the table and picked up her abandoned coffee from the counter. Deciding not to risk it, she dumped it in the sink, rinsed the mug and poured herself a fresh cup. This time she counted her sugar and stirred it.
<Shinobi> He watched her curiously and looked at his own cup, draining the last of the cold coffee and sliding off the table. "At least it's a real name."
<Jessica> "Yes, there is that." She smiled and took a sip of the coffee, "Do you want to tell Sebastian yourself?"
<Shinobi> Pouring himself another cup, he thought about this. "I'm not sure I want to talk to him yet."
<Jessica> "Well I can tell him... but I don't have to," she gave a half shrug, "I just wondered if you wanted me to not say anything until you're ready."
<Shinobi> "No, you can." He frowned into the cup, then nodded. "Yeah," he said, sounding more sure this time.
<Jessica> "Okay then, I'll do that," she leaned against the counter, cradling the cup and inhaling the scent of coffee. "And I'll look into some classes... maybe...."
<Shinobi> "You should," he said, blowing on the hot liquid as he turned to face her. "Keep me company," he added with a smile.
<Jessica> "It'd be nice to do something normal, I think... never done normal school before..."
<Shinobi> "There you go." He sipped his coffee and grinned. "I like it, so far."
<Jessica> "I should probably also stop hiding here... maybe go visit my friends instead of making them come to me all the time..."
<Shinobi> "The Ritz is awesome, and it has a restaurant that Hope won't go to because she doesn't even want to leave the room, so...."
<Jessica> "Getting a little stir-crazy in there, huh?" she gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, "I know the feeling... I'll come to some classes with you."
<Shinobi> "Thanks," he laughed. "That obvious, huh?" Taking another sip, he stared into the cup for a moment.
<Shinobi> "How's Miriam?" He hadn't heard her crying, but that wasn't too surprising since she seemed to be a quiet baby, as babies went. What was surprising was that he missed the baby.
<Jessica> "She's just fine," Jess offered a smile, "Sebastian's on baby duty right now though... I think I was supposed to take a nap but I didn't feel like it..."
<Shinobi> "Ahh," he nodded, hiding his disappointment. "She's not my sister, but I guess she sort of is." He huffed. "The weird shit Sebastian used to say to me makes more sense now, like he was trying not to lie while he was lying."
<Jessica> "Yeah... none of us liked lying to you... we tried not to... and she can still be your sister, I'm sure having a big brother is awesome."
<Shinobi> "I would like to see her." He bit his lip, again thinking about his conversation with Hope. "So maybe later this week?"
<Jessica> "Of course you can," she slid an arm around his shoulders to give him a squeeze, "You're welcome to drop in on the way home from college. I'd like that and I'm sure Miriam would too."
<Shinobi> He nodded, swallowing down the lump in his throat and put down his coffee to give her another hug. "Thanks."
<Jessica> Jess returned the hug and pressed a kiss to his cheek, "You're very welcome."
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